ORLANDO, FLA. — As vice presidential candidate Bill Weld spoke to a gathering of delegates at the 2016 Libertarian National Convention today, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts knew a few skeptics in the audience questioned his party bonafides.
But he elicited huge applause as he boasted about his judicial appointment of Margaret Marshall, the former chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court who in 2003 was the first U.S. judge to find same-sex couples could not be denied the right to marry.
“She wound up writing the opinion holding that the equality of marriage rights for gays and lesbians is constitutionally compelled under both the equal protection clause and the due process clause,” Weld noted. “The rest is history. That case went to the United States Supreme Court and that’s where the whole thing started, in Massachusetts with my appointee.”
The moment was among many signs at the party convention, taking place this weekend in Orlando, Fla., that as Libertarians take steps to swell their ranks this year, LGBT voters will be a chief target. Attendees roaming the halls of the Rosen Center, can be seen donning political buttons with the Libertarian logo overlaid atop a rainbow background, and there are flyers on tables defending the right for trans women to arm themselves to combat the ongoing epidemic of fatal anti-trans violence.
It follows that the party which famously celebrates the right to tell government to mind its own business would readily embrace LGBT rights. And to many gay and lesbian delegates in the party, that inclusive stance is no surprise at all. Thomas Knapp, a Florida delegate who identifies as bisexual, noted that marriage equality has been part of the Libertarian Party platform since 1971. “Hillary [Clinton] just got around to it in 2013,” Knapp says. He feels frustrated that organizations like the influential Human Rights Campaign blindly support the Democratic Party. That frustration is long-simmering, he says as he recalls attending die-ins with ACT UP in the 1980s, and being told by Democratic leaders that gay activists were making too much noise. That didn’t sit well with Knapp at the time, and it doesn’t today, either.
As Republicans fire up their own base with so-called bathroom bills and other assaults on trans rights, many LGBT activists in Orlando this weekend see no safe harbor in the Republican or Democrat power structures.
“The whole point of the Libertarian Party is just to leave people alone,” says T.E. Finnegan, a Texas delegate who is part of the LGBT-focused Outright Libertarians group who declined to identify her own sexuality. “Trans people have been going to the bathroom with the same gender with which they identify forever. Now all of the sudden we have this distraction to stoke up the fear and the hatred when it’s really a nonissue.”
But the Libertarian party has also become a sort of refuge for Republicans upset at the direction of that party in the age of Trump — and even before. Starchild, a California delegate from the San Francisco area who showed up at a party platform meeting wearing a leopard-spotted dress, winces when the Libertarian platform is described as pro-gay. Ever since an infusion of outside interests into the party circa 2006, the gender-fluid activist has been disappointed that the Libertarian platform had less details on LGBT issues, and hopes the party will once again take a stance on matters like equal access for transgender people.
“The Libertarian Party in the United States is the party that most strongly stands for freedom,” Starchild tells The Advocate. “That’s in the interest of all people, but especially minorities, whether it’s minorities of sexual orientation or race or gender or any other kind minority. We stand for the rights of the individual, and the individual is the smallest minority.”